Benjamin e-mailed to let me know about the Blackheath Art Society Autumn Show which is called “Impressions of Greenwich and Blackheath”. It is on at the Discover Greenwich upstairs gallery at the ORNC, Cutty Sark Gardens, SE10 9NN from Saturday 07 September – Friday 01 November. Entry is free and it is open from 10am-5pm. It will include artwork from local artists, many of whom opened their studios to the public in the Open Studio event in April and May this year.
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“I specialise in maritime pictures as well as aviation,” said Colin Ashford,” and have also painted steam trains and cars.” We were sitting in the front room of the Shooters Hill house where Colin had lived for over 60 years, talking about the water colours he had exhibited in the recent “Aviation Paintings of the Year 2013″ exhibition at the Mall Galleries. This annual exhibition is organised by the Guild of Aviation Artists of which Colin is a founder member and Vice President. The Guild was formed in 1971 with the aim of promoting aviation art and now has over 500 members and links with many fellow societies around the world.
Colin’s paintings have been a regular part of the Guild’s exhibitions – examples can be seen in their gallery web pages – and he has been awarded their Hawker Siddeley Trophy for the best water colour of the year on more than one occasion. The 2013 exhibition was very well attended on the day I visited, with many aviation enthusiasts viewing and discussing the 446 paintings by 139 artists.
Born in 1919, Colin showed a natural talent for art from a young age, and his school teachers told his parents that there was nothing they could teach him about drawing. He was educated at Ackworth Quaker School and decided at the age of 12 that he wanted to be an artist. Coincidentally that was about the time he first flew, in an open top biplane which he later discovered was flown by a first world war pilot. He won a Junior Exhibition to study art for four years at Wakefield College, followed by three years at the prestigious, Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art. He believes this rigorous academic training has stood him in good stead throughout his subsequent career
Colin was already interested in maritime and aviation art, and while a student spent some time during holidays going out on herring fishing boats from Scarborough to learn more about the subject and make notes on shapes and colours.
His ambition to be an artists was interrupted by the Second World War. Colin’s experiences with the First Battalion Scottish Light Infantry as part of the British Expeditionary Force just before the Dunkirk evacuation sound like a story from one of the boy’s annuals he later illustrated. The battalion was assigned by General Gort to defend a gap in the line created by the Belgian’s surrender. After a rapid overnight march through thundery storms they had to dig trenches into sodden clay – trenches that quickly filled with water – and then hold off a superior force including two Panzer divisions, with only light weapons. They held out for 24 hours, but Colin was wounded in the leg and taken by truck to the Belgian town, Poperinge. They could go no further because the bridge had been blown up to hinder the enemy’s advance.
Colin managed to get a lift in a tracked bren-gun carrier, on the understanding that he was capable of firing it, and was taken back into battle despite his wound, though with an artillery unit this time. Again this only delayed the inevitable and he eventually had to wade shoulder deep across the river between the spars of the demolished bridge in order to get to the coast for evacuation back to the UK. After two days on the beach he was taken home.
Colin was in hospital for three months recovering from his wound and shell-shock. He was redeployed to the Royal Engineers and served in North Africa and Italy, using his artistic skills in camouflage development – a subject on which he later gave talks and appeared in a TV programme about. His deployment included some time at the Allied Middle-East HQ, based in the Royal Palace at Caserta, Italy, which was where the photo on the right was taken. Many years later the Royal Palace was used as a filming location for a number of films including two Star Wars episodes, Mission Impossible III and Angels and Demons.
After the war Colin moved south to London to pursue his artistic ambitions. He started with a full-time job at a publisher, “the mortgage had to be paid”, but taking art commissions in his spare time. One of his early commissions, in 1959, came from Hunting Aerosurveys who wanted a picture of their predecessor company Aerofilms‘ first aerial photography sortie in an Airco DH.9 aircraft flying over Crystal Palace. This picture was reproduced in a book about building history, where it was seen by a firm of consulting engineers, Freeman, Fox and Partners. They contracted Colin to do artwork of their products, which included major bridge, road and building projects. While we were chatting Colin showed me copies of some of his commercial engineering art work, such as a 3-D, cut-away picture of an interchange on the Hong Kong Metro. The detail and perspective allowed the engineers working on the project to see how their plans would work out and make adjustments if necessary. Another project was to depict an oil rig drilling platform.
Colin’s career breakthrough came when Freeman, Fox and Partners decided to put him on a retainer, which freed him to pursue a full-time career as an artist.
Accuracy and meticulous attention to detail are key to Colin’s art. He aims to make his paintings historically accurate, depicting events that actually happened, as well as being a true representation of his subject. This means a lot of research into the historical background as well as the appearance and structure of the objects he paints. He has built up a library of books, photographs and even plans of aircraft, ships and other subjects of his paintings, and sometimes uses pilots’ combat reports. Manufacturers, many of them no longer in existence, were happy to send photographs and plans as part of their PR effort. Colin has also perfected his own water colour techniques over the years, experimenting in different uses of the medium to get the desired effect. He feels water colour is one of the most difficult media to master.
An example of Colin’s work in water colour, with both an aviation and a maritime theme, is shown below: an incident from the First World War when a Blackburn Kangaroo aircraft of No. 246 Squadron RAF flown by Lt E. F. Waring bombed a German submarine, SM UC-70, near Runswick Bay, Yorkshire on 28 August 1918.
Although Colin prefers water colours he also sometimes paints in oils. One of his large oil paintings, a Lancaster bomber in a brooding, moody sky, is in the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington, another is in the Hendon RAF Museum. His paintings are in various museums around the world. The National Maritime Museum has a water colour of the first catapult launch of an aircraft from a ship. Sir Peter Jackson, the film director, seems to be a big fan: there are 30 of Colin’s paintings at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in New Zealand which Peter inspired, chairs and helped set up. Other interesting commissions have included a series of paintings of cruise liners for an executive from New York who wanted water colours of the liners he had sailed on, pictures of vintage sports cars for their owners and paintings of Thames tug boats commissioned by their skippers. He spent time travelling on the Thames boats to gather information for the paintings, and also captured details of Thames-side industries that have now been replaced by housing.
As well as paintings Colin has created a wide variety of different artwork over the years. This includes book jackets, magazine covers and postcards. He has contributed a number of covers for the magazine of Cross and Cockade, the First World War Aviation Historical Society and pictures for aviation books published by the RAF Benevolent Fund such as Wright to Fly. A set of transport post cards utilises Colin’s ability to paint and create lettering in the style of the 1930s. At auction and on art sale websites Colin’s art sells for more than its original price.
At 94 years old Colin continues to paint in the studio adapted from the garage of his home on Shooters Hill.
Opportunities for art lovers to meet and talk to local artists in their studios start this weekend when some of the members of the Blackheath Art Society open their workplaces to the public. They are open from 12.00 noon to 6.00pm this Saturday and Sunday (27 & 28th April) and then again on the weekend of the 4th & 5th May. Admission is free.
The Blackheath Art Society leaflet, above, gives details of the artists and where they can be seen (click for a larger view). Some of the artists I saw last year are open again this year. I particularly enjoyed the creations of Nicola White, who makes her art from flotsam and jetsam found along the banks of the Thames such as lengths of driftwood and pieces of glass worn smooth by the tide. I must admit that the Thames Bottle Fish we got from Nicola last year is still waiting, with the wooden Roopachanda fish from Bangladesh, to be put up on the bathroom wall – it really needs a third fish to make a plaster duck like cascade. I also liked the acrylics, water colours and pastels of local scenes by Pat Colman, who teaches art at the University of the Third Age in Greenwich.
Blackheath Art Society also have a Taster Exhibition on at the moment until 19th May at the Greenwich Tourist Information Centre in Cutty Sark Gardens, and will hold their Summer Exhibition at the Blackheath Halls, Lee Road from 5th to 18th June.
There are so many artists working at the seven acre site of Second Floor Studios & Arts that I still haven’t got round them all, despite visiting on a couple of their open studios days. The next one opens on the evening of Friday17th May from 5pm – 9pm and is open on Saturday and Sunday 18th & 19th from 11am – 6pm. The range of creative work going on down by the Thames Barrier is enormous, as their web site says it includes:
painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, animation, illustration, fashion, accessories, jewellery design, mosaic, glass-making, ceramics, cabinet-making, architecture, interiors and soft furnishings, bookbinding, silversmithing, installation, textiles, garden design + more…
SFSA have produced a Family Trail map and activity sheet to guide families with children on their exploration of the site and studios.
Also on the SFSA site over that weekend, the no format gallery has an exhibition of contemporary furniture and lighting produced by SFSA members, and the gallery will be the venue for the launch of Stephen Baycroft’s new book “On Sublimity and Synaesthesia”. And of course there’s the Thames-side Social Enterprise Arts Café CANTEEN to relax and recuperate in when you get studio-ed out.
Second Floor Studios & Arts are holding another open studio weekend on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th November. Their last open studios in May was engrossing – such a variety of different artists and craftspeople – but I only managed to visit a fraction of the 200 or so studios, and of course the excellent Canteen. Nichole Herbert e-mailed details of the event:
Our opening night is Thursday 15th November and we are open all weekend (17th and 18th).
- It’s a perfect opportunity for you to discover unique gifts for those hard to buy for people.
- We now have 230 artists, craftspeople and designer makers on site, there is no other single site in the UK with so many practitioners.
- no format will open on the same night with the Thames Barrier Print Studio’s inaugural show – Freedom of the Press – a group show celebrating the art of print.
- We are introducing an art trail this year to keep the little people busy and to make navigation of our ever expanding site more fun.
- We have a number of demonstrations running over open studios both by our practitioners and at the Thames Barrier Print Studio.
- Our CANTEEN, will of course be open during open studios serving a hearty Irish stew, coffee, tea, homemade cakes and mulled wine.
Please bring your friends and family and enjoy time by the river being inspired by creativity.
SFSA is located near the river in the Mellish Industrial Estate, Harrington Way, (off Warspite Road), SE18 5NR. I had no problem parking there in May.
Both the Blackheath Art Society and Second Floor Studios & Arts have open studios this weekend. Eleven Blackheath Art Society artists’ studios, situated in Blackheath and surrounding areas are open from 12.00 noon to 6.00pm on both Saturday and Sunday, 19th and 20th May. The snippet of their flyer, below, gives the addresses of the studios (click to enlarge). Second Floor Studio & Arts is London’s largest creative hub of arts and crafts practitioners, with over 160 studio members and 45 Thames Barrier Print Studio members. Their open studios event has its opening night on Thursday evening, and is open from 11.00am to 6.00pm on both weekend days. There is also a chance to see print demonstrations in the Thames Barrier Print Studio and visit their recently opened social enterprise Arts Canteen. SFSA is located in the Mellish Industrial Estate, Harrington Way, (off Warspite Road), SE18 5NR.
The BAS artists’ studios were open last weekend too, and I visited three of the artists closest to home. All three were very welcoming, with offers of drinks and nibbles, a chance to view and purchase artwork and all were prepared to share their artistic techniques generously. The first studio visited was in the Royal Herbert Pavilions; Nicola White makes her art from flotsam and jetsam found along the banks of the Thames. The art she has created from found items such as lengths of driftwood, fragments of glass worn smooth by the tide and a surprisingly large number of broken clay pipe pieces was unexpectedly effective, demonstrating a quirky sense of humour. I especially liked the way in which the curve of a piece of driftwood mimicked a bird’s breast, and the essence of a fish captured in broken glass.
Further down Shooters Hill Road was the studio of Pat Colman, who had works in acrylics, water colours and pastels on display. Her dramatic and moody acrylics of local scenes such as the Thames Barrier and Dome, the Royal Observatory and the Yacht Club were particularly striking. Pat also teaches art at the University of the Third Age in Greenwich. Finally to Roque lane to see the paintings of Shirley Felts and photography of Martin Ellis. Shirley is an accomplished water colourist and prolific book illustrator, with a long held interest in the South American rain forests which many of her paintings depict. My favourites however were smaller giclee prints of still lifes, capturing the shine on an apple or the rich red of cherries.
If you’re interested in art and local artists next weekend could be busy.